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Sian Prior: Shyness in the Classroom – Understanding and Accommodating Socially Anxious Students

Session Info:

At least 40% of us would call ourselves shy; shyness is an inherited temperament trait that often causes real emotional distress for its sufferers. Shyness manifests as social anxiety and, at its worst, social phobia. It is different to introversion, although the two are often confused. We live in a culture in which confident, performative, extroverted behaviour is considered the norm, but many young people have difficulty living up to that image (or illusion?) of social competence, in their social lives and in the classroom.

For shy children, the classroom environment can be terrifying. But there are ways teachers can help alleviate their students’ socially anxiety, and enhance their learning. Drawing on temperament theory and my experience as a classroom teacher, I will outline the strategies teachers can employ to encourage shy students to take ‘safe’ risks.

In spite of having had several different careers in the public eye, including as a radio presenter, a model and a musician, I have suffered from shyness all my life. In an effort to get on top of it I wrote a memoir called ‘Shy’ (Text Publishing) in which I investigated the causes and costs of this distressing temperament trait, and revealed my own strategies for dealing with it. I am passionate about educating my audience about the impact of social anxiety on individuals and the broader culture, and about how to overcome its distressing symptoms.

My aims are: to inspire teacher to help their students feel less stricken by and ashamed of their shyness; to educate the non-shy about how it feels to be socially anxious, and to help shy young people find ways to fulfil their educational and social potential. After all, as Morrissey from The Smiths sings, ‘Shyness is nice’.


  • What IS shyness/social anxiety?
  • How does shyness/social anxiety feel?
  • What are the costs of shyness/social anxiety?
  • How does shyness/social anxiety manifest in the classroom and the schoolyard?
  • What can teachers do to help?
  • How ‘Professional Sian’ saved ‘Shy Sian’, and how together they’ve tried to save the world.
  • How writing a book about my own shyness helped me to come to terms with it.
  • What I have learned about myself and about shyness in the process


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